City departments set goals for FY 2008-2009

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, March 5, 2008

By Staff
Drainage improvements, Water Street-area plan cited as some priorities
Contributing Editor
New utility billing software, possible expansion of the Water Street corridor study and optimizing the stormwater-management fund are among top priorities for City of Washington departments for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
Those departmental priorities and others, prepared by the city’s management team, were reviewed and discussed during the City Council’s planning session last month. From the departmental priorities, the council established a list of city-wide priorities. Lynn Lewis, the city’s tourism development director, and Mick Reed, the city’s police chief, reviewed the departments’ priorities with the council. The departments want to at least begin working to meet all of their goals, if not meet some of them in the next fiscal year.
Finding ways to increase revenue in the city’s stormwater-management fund will enable the city to fix more drainage and stormwater-runoff problems, city officials have determined.
The city wants to accomplish that goal without increasing stormwater-management fees, if possible.
Fixing severe storm drainage problems in Washington could cost up to $16 million, depending on when those problems are corrected, according to a drainage study prepared for Washington. The cost of correcting the problems, if those corrections were made now, would be about $11 million. Because the city doesn’t have the money to make all the corrections now, it would likely have to implement the drainage improvements over several years. Doing that over a six-year period would result in those improvements costing about $16 million, said Durk Tyson, spokesman for Rivers &Associates.
The study recommends issuing bonds to pay for the improvements in areas with the most pressing needs. City voters would decide whether the city borrows money to pay for the improvements. Debt service on those bonds should be paid for from revenue generated by the city’s stormwater fees, the study suggests. Those fees generate a little over $400,000 a year, according to city officials. Currently, that money is used to cover maintenance costs associated with the city’s drainage systems, city officials said.
The study recommends making initial drainage improvements in the Jack’s Creek basin and Smallwood subdivision during a two-year period.
In the first year, improvements would be made in Smallwood, the airport canal area and the area where Brown and Charlotte streets meet Jack’s Creek. Doing that work now would cost about $2.77 million, but waiting 18 months to two years to begin that work would increase the cost to about $3.1 million, according to the study.
In the second year, improvements would be made to the Jack’s Creek basin downstream of Eighth Street to near Brown Street. Doing that work now would cost about $2.3 million, but waiting two years to three years to begin that work would increase the cost to about $2.9 million, according to the study.
The majority of improvements would include replacing existing drainage pipes with larger pipes, replacing existing drainage pipes with box culverts, increasing channel capacity of Jack’s Creek and removing constrictions from drainage systems.
To avoid a major billing error like the one involving Beaufort County Hospital’s LifeStyles Medical Fitness Center, the city’s Finance Department plans to install new utility-billing software. Some of the software used by the department dates to the 1970s.
In January, the council signed off on a plan to refund $169,225 to Beaufort County Hospital in the form of credit to the hospital’s water and sewer bills.
From January 2005 through August 2007, the city overcharged LifeStyles Medical Fitness Center at Beaufort County Hospital $169,185 for water and wastewater treatment. An account audit discovered the billing error, according to city officials.
The new software will help prevent similar incidents from occurring, city officials said.
During the planning session, council members indicated they may decide to expand a planned study of the Water Street corridor to better plan for potential growth in that area, especially at the east end of Water Street. The lease on the property occupied by Builders FirstSource expires in the near future, and that land could be developed for other uses, city officials said.
The Moss Landing residential development — townhouses and condominiums — is being built at the east end of Water Street.
Last fall, the city decided to seek a consultant to prepare a development plan for that corridor.
During much of last year, the city explored what it wants to do with the former Evans Seafood property it owns along Water Street. During that exploration, several council members endorsed commercial development, which could include a hotel, for the half-acre site. On May 3, city officials concluded the former Evans Seafood property, the former Maola property and the former McQuay Building property be looked at together in an effort to study development possibilities for those combined properties.
On Aug. 27 the council again discussed the former Evans Seafood property “in the context of a hotel on a Water Street location and questioned whether the study should be broadened to include the entire Water Street corridor,” reads a memorandum from City Manager James C. Smith to the mayor and council.
At its planning session, the council indicated it wants a plan that would provide development strategies for the Water Street corridor and surrounding areas.